January 9, 2011

When You Get to Pick Your Family

"Mama, when I am an adult, I am going to live with you," she says to me from the back of the car, as we pull out of the neighborhood on the way to school.

Oh, the joy my girl brings to my life, which is no small accomplishment, given the pain of the past few years.

"Olivia," I tell her, not really sure how best to respond to her tender sentiment, "I would love it if you always live near to me."

"No, Mama," she says, quite forcefully. "Not NEAR you. When I get to be a grown-up, when you get to pick your family, I am going to live WITH you."

When you get to pick your family.

What an amazingly interesting choice of words.

I am frozen. And I wonder:

Are my daughter's words simply her way of trying to get her point across at that particular moment?

Or do they reflect so much more about how she views the world, how she sees family obligation, how she sees the choices that adults have when faced with real responsibility and difficulty?

My daughter has a brother with a severe disability. He cannot talk to her; he cannot listen to her. He cannot share in her imaginary games or her creative schemes. He cannot count down the days to Christmas with her, or pick out a gift for her brithday, or make fun of her glitter eye shadow and pick fingernails.

She knows he is different. She knows her relationship with her brother is far, far different that the relationships her classmates have with their siblings.

And it always will be.

I think my daughter's words reflect an early understanding that we are born into a family of which we have no control. We get the brother God (or circumstance) gives us. We get the parents life gives us. We arrive, we are, and we adapt.
But of course, there is a point when we do get a choice with regard to family.

I may sometimes read too much into my daughter's words. When you have two children, and only one of them can speak, you tend to listen that much more closely to what she says.

So, I may assign too much weight to what my daughter says to me.

But .... I would like to think... that my daughter's words signal that she already is forming an idea of what it means to be a family, and that the image in her head is defined by commitment.

I would like to think that she already understands that people make choices, and that those choices define who we are, and who we will be as family members.

And I would like to think that her words reflect that she really likes her mom, despite my many shortcomings--and that she likes her little family, flawed though we are.

I would like to think that her words, at the dear age of five, suggest something about the adult she will one day be.


  1. That chokes me up. What an amazing little soul you have there :)

  2. What a beautiful, beautiful girl you have. She gets it. She knows.